Executive produced by Taika Waititi, Night Raiders is a searing thriller set in the near future. After a destructive war across North America, a military occupation seizes control of society. One of their core tactics: taking children from their families and putting them into State Academies or forced-education camps.
Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) is a Cree mother desperate to protect her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart). But events force mother and daughter to separate, leading Niska to join a group of Cree vigilantes to get her daughter back. Night Raiders digs deep into Canada’s painful past to craft a compelling, propulsive piece of genre cinema.
Recently, I had the privilege of chatting with Suzanne about getting into the headspace of an extremist headmaster, the poignancy and relevance of Night Raiders, sage acting advice and more.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Melody McCune: We here at GGA love a good origin story. What’s Suzanne Cyr’s origin story?
Suzanne Cyr: Well, I’m from St. Thomas, Ontario. I grew up with four brothers, so it was a pretty intense household. I was usually the only girl with a whole gang of guys, which was really fun. Lots of at-home plays and theater and make-believe and all that kind of stuff going on.
Then, I left at 18 to pursue an opportunity to model. I was supposed to be headed to art school in Switzerland, but I decided to come to the big city and model. I modeled for about five or six years.
I went to New York for a while, and they (casting directors) told me, “You’re an actress. You have the face of an actress. You should study acting.” So, finally, I started to listen to them, which was how I came to acting.
MM: Let’s talk about Night Raiders. What drew you to this project?
SC: I got the audition. That’s what drew me to the project, and certainly, the people attached to it are fantastic. The producers and the director/writer Danis Goulet. In my career, I’ve been cast a lot as a nice mom. Those are fun roles. This was a much darker and heavier role.
I had been writing in a journal for a long time. You know, when you write down things you want to manifest. I had been writing that I would receive an opportunity to play a dark role in an international and successful film. So, let’s see if it becomes internationally successful. I certainly hope it will, and I think it should. We’ll see—definitely a chance to stretch and use some of my range.
MM: Your character is the headmaster who runs the Davin Academy, a school for children that functions more like a military camp. The headmaster upholds the tenets of the extreme far-right regime she serves. How did you get into the headspace of someone who holds fast to extremist beliefs?
SC: The first thing I did when I got the audition was I booked my coach. A very wonderful acting coach here named Lewis Baumander.
I remember Lewis saying to me, “These people don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. She doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong. Just make yourself as elevated and know what’s right.” And I understood the psychology of this character. When you understand how a person thinks, then you know how they’re going to behave.
It’s understanding the psychology of the human being and knowing that in their world, they see themselves as superior and right, and these children need to be broken and trained. So, right off the bat, you’re going to be watching a pretty bad person. Pretty evil.
MM: What makes Night Raiders particularly resonant today?
SC: Well, I can tell you that Danis, the writer/director, has described it as a fictionalized account of residential schools, and she set it in the future. Again, Danis’s words. She set it in the future so that she could rewrite the ending. All of the elements in Night Raiders are pulled from the past and what happened with the residential schools.
My character is representative of a priest. It wasn’t only priests that ran those schools. There were priests; there were nuns. There were a few other religions involved too. It’s a pretty sobering subject, but she wanted to rewrite the ending to empower the Indigenous characters.
MM: Interesting. I’m excited to see it!
SC: Did you see Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio? If you haven’t seen it, it’s an excellent movie. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are hilarious together. Leonardo DiCaprio is an actor, and Brad Pitt is his stuntman, and they’re good friends. So, he (Quentin Tarantino) drops them into Hollywood during the time of Charles Manson and Sharon Tate. He rewrites the ending of Sharon Tate. I always thought of it (the ending of Night Raiders) like that.
MM: That movie’s been on my watch list for a while.
SC: You know the story of Sharon Tate? It was so sad.
MM: I do. It’s very heartbreaking.
SC: You’re in for a treat. Brad Pitt won the Academy Award for it. It’s really incredible.
MM: What do you hope audiences will glean from this film?
SC: Well, I think they’re going to feel very moved by many things. I think they’re going to feel moved by how Danis has given us a real window into the Indigenous culture and the language. I felt very moved by the Cree spoken in the movie. That’s the first thing. It touched me very deeply.
I’m hoping people are moved enough to educate themselves about the residential school situation. I’m hoping it will bring attention back to what’s happening … I find it hard to even say, with uncovering the children’s graves, but I hope it will continue to give a voice to those children.
I’m hoping people will reach out and say, “Well, what can I do? How can I help?” Danis posted on her Instagram page, at one point, a list of things we could do to help the Indigenous community.
Even just starting a petition — there are petitions for sending money to the people uncovering the graves. There are all kinds of things people can do. So, I’m hoping they’ll investigate and take action. One of the things Danis said was to call your MP. Ask for change.
Have you heard about this in the states?
MM: I have. It’s so unbelievably sad.
SC: We’re not the sweet, perfect country that’s built on “apple pie” and “mom.” It’s pretty dark, and it’s important we face it.
MM: Absolutely. Let’s switch gears. What advice would you give to aspiring performers looking to get their foot in the door of the industry?
Find a good acting school and study, and a good acting teacher. Start right where you are at the bottom. Investigate; connect with other actors. Connect with great teachers. Read — study your craft. There are tons of great acting schools. Take care of yourself and take care of your body.
When you’re really unhealthy, you’re going to be a really unhealthy actor. It’s funny; I can’t remember who said it, but I read about smoking and acting years ago and how smoking robs the breath. You need your breath. You need your whole self.
MM: That makes sense.
SC: Also, have a good life. Do what makes you happy. Get a dog, have friends. Years ago, one of my acting teachers was a wonderful woman named Carol Rosenfeld.
During her workshop, she would go over what it meant to be an actor, and I remember the first thing she said was, “One of the things you’re going to do more than anything else is wait.”
So, how are you going to wait? Are you going to be a really cranky, bitter person, which is very boring to be around, or are you going to find something that fills you creatively and pays rent and keeps your head on straight, and you feel satisfied? That’s one of the hardest things. How you stay in the game and be a happy human being. Make sure you’ve got a life and something that’ll support you.
MM: Excellent advice. Besides Night Raiders, what’s on the horizon for you career-wise?
SC: There’s another film coming out, a Christmas film. Christmas with a Prince: The Royal Baby. Those Christmas with a Prince movies are really popular. I play Gabriella Kahn. I’m a talk show host, like Barbara Walters or Oprah, and I interview the prince and princess.
That’s the only concrete thing right now, but there are lots of auditions. I’m looking forward to the screening of Night Raiders. That’s going to be really fun walking on a red carpet for the first time. I’m a bit nervous about wearing a dress. And just taking care of my dog. My dog is 14.
MM: What kind of dog do you have?
SC: A beautiful old English sheepdog. She’s not as mobile anymore, so I have a trailer that I attach to my bike, and I ride her around. People always say to me, “Oh, we see you all the time with your dog.”
MM: Have you binge-watched anything interesting during the pandemic?
SC: You’re going to laugh. I don’t even have Netflix. I don’t have anything like that, so I haven’t been binge-watching. How I’ve managed the pandemic is by getting outside as much as possible.
MM: That sounds a lot healthier than binge-watching!
SC: Yeah, but binge-watching is really fun too, and I’m missing many good shows. We’re out by seven o’clock in the morning, even in snowstorms. I make her go in the bike trailer, and I ride around in snowstorms. We have big trees in the backyard, and a front porch. We’re out as much as possible, Melody, because that’s where I feel terrific — in nature.
MM: You’ve got to do what works for you! Last one. Name your top five films or anything that comes to mind.
SC: Oh, my goodness! When people ask me these questions, Melody, I completely draw a blank. Let’s say Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. Do you know what movie I loved? It’s another Brad Pitt film — Fight Club.
I was going to shoot a film after I saw that and … there was a scene where I smacked my daughter. So, after watching Fight Club, I’m like, “Ah, okay. I’m going to set up this whole thing where I smack her, and then I go to the table, and then everything falls.” I set up a whole bunch of obstacles. That really inspired me.
Dead Man Walking is another great film. If I can say a TV show, I love Scandal with Kerry Washington. I love watching her.
Another Brad Pitt film: Mr. & Mrs. Smith. That was, again, really physical. I like physical things, but let’s put Scandal before that because there are too many Brad Pitt films.
MM: There’s no such thing as too many Brad Pitt films. Suzanne, thank you so much for chatting with me!
SC: Thank you, Melody!
For those wanting to help Canada’s Indigenous communities, here’s a great resource.
This interview was originally published on 9/9/21.
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